As everyone knows, Manchester High School Central was locked down for hours three weeks ago during a police standoff. Cops thought they had cornered a suspected murderer in an apartment building, but in the end they walked away empty-handed.
Well, not really empty-handed.
Sixty police officers who worked during the standoff received overtime pay, earning an extra $375 on average in their paycheck, according to payroll information supplied by police.
Myself being a union-type working guy, I’m not going to criticize any working stiff who gets time-and-a-half wages for working beyond eight hours. It’s a God-given right here in America.
Not only police made out. Overtime went to school secretaries, teacher assistants, cafeteria workers and substitute teachers, 23 in all, who were locked in at Central and lost a Friday night.
But if you’re a teacher or principal in Manchester, watching high school kids during lockdowns is just part of the job.
“Of course we don’t get overtime, we’re salaried,” said Sue Hannan, the president of the Manchester Education Association, the union that represents the 1,000 teachers in the city schools.
That’s the way it is, according to two city leaders.
“It goes to what’s in the (teacher union) contract and being salaried employees,” said Mayor Joyce Craig, who deferred further questions to the school district.
The chairman of the school board subcommittee that is working on a teacher contract was more blunt.
“Salaried positions, by definition, you basically do what you gotta do to get the job done,” said Richard Girard, an at-large school board member. If the teachers get overtime, he said, the police department should pay it, since they ordered the lockdown.
(Girard has been critical of the lockdown, arguing that students could have been released from doors far from the building where police believed their suspect was holed up.)
Of course, issues about hourly overtime and salaried work get decided by people higher up than Craig and Girard.
The U.S. Labor Department has determined that teachers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. That law requires all sorts of bosses, from Police Chief Carlo Capano to Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid, to pay cops and reporters overtime after 40 hours.
But the work of teachers (and McDonald’s managers for that matter) is mostly intellectual and involves the “consistent exercise of discretion and judgment,” according to a fact sheet on the Labor Department’s website.
So if city leaders wanted to reward teachers for extra duty work but can’t pay overtime, they could come up with an alternative.
For example, $50-a-week hazard duty pay. Cops get it. Firefighters want it.
Why not, Hannan said. Teachers would be on the front lines in the case of a school shooting. And they get punched, kicked and bitten while on the job.
“It’s just as crazy as what the police have to deal with, as well as fire,” she said.
Craig said hazard duty pay would be a question for the school district. (Isn’t she the boss, I asked. No, Craig said, she just sets the agenda for the school board, runs the meetings and gets a single vote on the 15-member board.)
Girard’s response to hazard duty pay: “I’m not going to discuss negotiations through the media.”
Personally, I don’t think hazard duty pay will work. It would be pretty challenging for groups like Manchester Proud to promote Manchester schools if teachers earned hazard duty pay.
(The average $60,900 salary of Manchester teachers ranked 46 out of 160 school districts last year, according to data on the state Education Department website.)
So if overtime is impossible, and hazard duty pay is impractical, the alternative would be time off.
According to Hannan, she approached Craig and New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on the night of Sept. 7, when parents were picking up students at Hillside Middle School. She raised the idea of a comp day, maybe the day before the Christmas break, for Central teachers.
Craig verified the conversation took place.
“I think it would be a show of good faith,” Craig said about the day off.
But Craig said she hasn’t heard anything since, and the decision would be up to Edelblut, who would have to waive the minimum 990-hour school year requirement, and school Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas. In a statement, Edelblut said he’d support the district any way he can.
In his statement, Vargas commended Central faculty as well as students and parents for their extraordinary efforts and cooperation.
“While some have suggested compensation for the extra time and effort, including a day off at Central, I believe there are other ways we can acknowledge the outstanding dedication of our teachers and staff, which is not limited to this particular day,” Vargas said. He didn’t elaborate.
Oh, well. The mayor’s office did point out that on the Monday after the standoff, two downtown businesses — Cafe la Reine and Market Basket — supplied free coffee, bagels and doughnuts to the teachers lounge.